Posted by: pastortomvabeach | April 24, 2012

Thought for the Week April 29, 2012

I trust that readers have had a chance to think about and, perhaps, study further, the first of the “elementary principles” or “basic teachings” about Christ referred to by the writer of Hebrews – repentance from dead works and faith towards God (Hebrews 6:1). These two principles together form the foundation of our relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. When I repent and believe the result is that I am “saved” (see Acts 16:31). But there is more.

In verse 2, the writer lists four more “basic teachings” that are vital to our grasp of Christian living and form the foundation of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the first one mentioned – the doctrine of baptisms (plural).

In the context of the first century, there were many groups who practiced various ceremonial rituals for purification and/or admission into the group. The Jews had several types of religious “washings” that were prevalent. Since this letter was written to the Hebrew believers, it is reasonable to consider that the writer is meaning to differentiate between those who were urging the Hebrew Christians to practice Jewish rituals and the “baptisms” that were foundational to the Christian faith.

That this word, baptisms, is plural is not an accident. If you asked most Christians what baptism means, they would say that it’s when you believe in Jesus and someone takes you into the water and immerses you as Jesus commanded (see Matthew 28:19). While that is true, it does not explain why this basic teaching is about baptisms rather than baptism.

The word is plural because in Jesus’ teaching and in the New Testament epistles there are at least four distinct baptisms that are taught as part of being a Christian. John the Baptist spoke of three different baptisms when he said, I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16). Notice John was baptizing people in water (one baptism) but he said that Jesus would come and baptize in the Holy Spirit (two baptisms) and fire (three baptisms). Later, Paul spoke of a fourth baptism, By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. (I Corinthians 12:13).

Some would say that all of these really are one baptism and happen when we get baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we follow the ordinance of the church. I believe that each is distinct because each baptism is carried out by a different person and each has a different purpose. Let’s discuss the manner of baptism in each case.

Baptism in water is an ordinance of the church which Jesus command His followers to carry out. He told them to Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The implication which the early Christians followed was that when someone believed in Jesus, someone who was already a Christian would take them into the water, immerse them, and raise them up out of the water. So the “agent” of the baptism or the one doing the baptizing was another human person.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is something that John the Baptist said was the sole responsibility of Jesus Himself, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Notice that Jesus is the agent here. When the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, no human person did anything to make it happen. A sound came from heaven and tongues of fire set upon them. A similar thing happened in Cornelius’ house. While Peter was preaching Jesus filled the listeners with the Holy Spirit. He is the agent of this baptism.

The baptism Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 12 has even a different agent. He says that we are baptized into Christ’s body by the Holy Spirit. This refers to regeneration or “new birth” which is the function of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Paul tells Titus it is according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Notice the part the Holy Spirit plays. He regenerates and renews us which Paul calls a “washing”. This is not the same word as “baptism”, but the concept is the same. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin, convinces us of righteousness and eternal judgment (John 16:8) and, when we trust in Jesus Christ, He baptizes (immerses) us into the body of Christ. He is the agent.

So, foundationally, there are at least three baptisms that I believe every Christian can and should receive – baptism into the body of Christ (that’s salvation), baptism in water (following Christ in obedience), and baptism in the Holy Spirit (overflowing with the Holy Spirit’s power). The fourth, baptism in fire, I am not sure is given to everyone, nor am I sure that I really want it, unless the Lord determines it’s necessary. Have you considered the implications of this little plural word – baptisms? As you think about it, which of them have your received? Just a thought.

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